As French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe begins a four-day visit to China in the south-eastern city of Shenzhen, our team reports from this former fishing village that’s been transformed into a giant metropolis in the space of a few decades. Shenzhen is now one of China’s richest cities. Foreign capital flows in constantly and every week, new companies spring up.
Of all the mega-cities in the world’s most populous country, it’s the one that best embodies the "Chinese economic miracle". With 15 million inhabitants, Shenzhen is the capital of start-ups, new technologies, innovation and design. Today, it’s the country’s top city in terms of GDP and its double-digit growth makes it the engine of China’s stunning development.
Less than 40 years ago, though, Shenzhen was just a small fishing village, isolated in the middle of a poor agricultural area, the Pearl River Delta. In 1980, President Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China's reforms and openness, chose the city for the country's first Special Economic Zone (SEZ) to receive foreign investment, as the People's Republic of China began to open up to the outside world.
The city metamorphosed at lightning speed, seeing spectacular economic and demographic development. Foreign capital flowed in by the thousands and every week, factories emerged from the ground. For three decades, its manufacturing industry spearheaded China's growth, with Shenzhen and the surrounding Guangdong province nicknamed the "Factory of the World". And Shenzhen’s development did not stop there.
Thousands of patents filed
The city attracted new wealth and skills from the wider region, from Guangzhou (formerly known as Canton) to Hong Kong, to become the economic face of contemporary China. Shenzhen is now at the forefront of technological innovation and produces electronic goods, such as smartphones, tablets, robots or televisions. Emerging business sectors are growing by 20% and in just five years, the city has reportedly filed more than 12,000 patents, almost half the country’s total. The average age in the city is just 28, with one million expatriates.
How, in less than 40 years, was a simple fishing village able to become the "Chinese Silicon Valley"? And at what price? Who are the young entrepreneurs who choose Shenzhen to launch their start-ups? Why did Communist China allow this city to build its own identity and become a Chinese exception?
Our reporters Antoine Védeilhé, Thomas Blanc and Charlie Wang went to explore this ever-changing laboratory of the “Made in China” version of capitalism.